20 Mar 2018

Learnings and challenges – the Right to Build Task Force one year on

Mario Wolf
Right to Build Task Force
Learnings and challenges – the Right to Build Task Force one year on

NaCSBA’s Right to Build Task Force was set up in February 2017, with the aim of helping local authorities, community groups and other organisations across the UK deliver significantly more affordable Custom and Self-build housing projects.

In part two of our feature about its experiences in the first year, Director Mario Wolf[i] shares some of the learnings from the first year, and identifies challenges for the future.

Read part one, about the work of the Task Force, here.

Lessons learned

1 Evidence of demand

With a year under its belt, Wolf suggests several potential growth areas of support or patterns that underpin good practice.

Engaging with local authorities and representatives from industry has highlighted that the Right to Build registers are an important source of evidencing local demand for Custom and Self-build locally.

However, they are only short-term tools and can suppress real demand if they are not effectively structured and promoted.

Although they are intended to be used with a range of other evidencing measures, what has quickly become clear is that a longer-term form of evidencing demand was needed to supplement them to inform longer-term housing delivery strategies in local plans.

This led the Task Force to work with NaCSBA and Three Dragons to develop a long-term assessment tool to support policy makers (and potentially larger land owners) in evidencing demand for Custom and Self-build housing on a 5-10 year basis.

“A key challenge is identifying local demand to inform the right quantum of plots for sites, which the registers are not best placed to do – this is where the tool comes in,” he says.

Currently in pilot phase in the Greater Exeter area, the tool will (when operational later in 2018) support five-year housing supply allocations, and will be consistent with the new methodology for objectively assessed housing need proposed by Government.

“Projects like the Three Dragons tool are a central part of our legacy work, helping to support that pipeline by evidencing demand, alongside workshops, training events and a programme of visits we are developing to see real projects being successfully delivered” adds Wolf.

As well as supporting the demand process locally, the Task Force is also feeding back its experience to Government to inform emerging policy and programmes and will be inputting into the National Planning Practice Guidance.

2 Landowners

To date, one main line of enquiry has been from landowners looking to implement Custom and Self-build on their sites. In some cases this is to respond to local policy asks or to diversify the housing offer to harness local demand, or in some cases to deliver new forms of housing for local people.

“For legacy landowners, our experience is that they prefer Custom Build over conventional market housing as a means of maintaining some form of control in the land, what gets built and for who,” says Wolf.

“Because of their local connection with the land, they want to work with communities to facilitate better quality development in terms of placemaking, build quality and local affordability.”

3 Garden communities

Promoters of new garden communities are also increasingly interested in how they can include Custom and Self-build housing into their projects.

So far, this has generated the largest projects that the Task Force has successfully advised on.

Where the project promoter is a private entity this can be to do with diversifying the offering on the site, or as a means of differentiating their offering from others in the wider Garden community context.

From a local authority perspective, factoring Custom and Self-build in is a means of diversifying their local housing supply, that also provides an opportunity for them to meet some of their duties under the Right to Build for demand.

In some areas, councils are looking to refresh their registers to have a better and stronger measure of demand to promote their projects.

“We’re keen to engage with more garden communities and to explore the opportunities for growing Custom and Self-build in those locations,” says Wolf.

“We’ve got a lot of experience that we can share to support such organisations as they develop their proposals, speeding up this process.”

4 Supporting councils with objections

One unexpected stream of small-scale work is that occasionally the Task Force has been approached to offer support to local authorities where they’ve had push back from developers on including Self-build or Custom Build on their sites.

“While we understand that for some large developers Custom and Self-build just isn’t part of their business model.

“But these developers also need to realise that there is pent-up demand for this form of housing and that it can be successfully incorporated into a scheme without undermining the wider development,” says Wolf.

“And we know that there are several developments across the country that are accommodating serviced-building plots on larger sites for commercial gain, so there are precedents for it to happen, and also to be viable,” he adds.

While this work is slightly removed from its core remit, the Task Force is able to offer advice to councils about the benefits of the sector and plot inclusion, which may support the council in question.

The need for community-groups

One area that remains a strong target for 2018, is for the Task Force to reach community-led projects which are central to the Task Force’s remit.

“Moving on, we need to ensure we can provide the right level of support which viable community-led projects need to bring their projects to fruition,” says Wolf.

So far the feedback about the Task Force has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been welcomed by the industry, and is achieving its principal aim of supporting the building of homes through Custom and Self-build.

“I’m in regular engagement with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government,” says Wolf, “and to date Ministers and senior colleagues in Government are pleased with the progress the Task Force is making, to the point where it’s been singled out for praise from Secretary of State Sajid Javid,”

“Going forward we need to grow our Expert Panel and drive forward with our legacy projects to build the foundations for a successful model which can provide support needed to help the Custom and Self-build market continue to expand.”

[i] Mario Wolf joined the Task Force on secondment from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in June 2017.

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